When it comes to websites that support multiple languages, there are many different ways to accomplish this. Some use a single URL strategy for all languages, others use subdomains or country-specific domains, while others change the URLs via parameters. But what is the best option for a site that is expanding into various languages, but might not have been originally set up with multi-languages in mind initially?
A recent Google Webmaster Office Hours had this question, specific to how it is best to set up new languages for a site.
If I have a website (page.com) and content in English and I want to create the same in Spanish, Is it better to create a separate page (page.es) or include a translator on the original page and redirect it to .com?
John Mueller answered the question:
So in general for multi-lingual pages we recommend making the language clear per URL. So you have one page in English, one page in Spanish and the whole page is in English and the whole page is in Spanish and with that it’s a lot easier for us to recognize that this is the English page and we should redirect people to the English page, and we don’t have the situation where the page is partly in English, part Spanish and we don’t really know which language this page should be ranking for.
So from the general question here, should I make separate URLs or should I use the same URLs, I would definitely use separate URLs. You don’t have to put it on a separate domain though. When it comes to language, essentially you can use any unique URL per language. That could be with a parameter in the end, with a subdomain or a subdirectory.
Google’s hreflang guidelines don’t explicitly state that you should use a multi-URL strategy, and I have definitely seen cases where a server accidentally serves me the wrong language content on the page (the French version instead of the English one) and if the site serves it dynamically, it can sometimes be impossible to get the correct language version. But sometimes sites will only translate a portion of the content on the page, with the bulk of the page remaining in the original language, such as forums that will translate the static parts of the page into various languages while the user generated forum content is not. And these types also tend to use the same URL.
And of course, don’t forget to add the appropriate hreflang tags to all pages that have language variations, including the page in the initial and/or primary language.
Using a multiple URL strategy also makes it easier to identify hreflang errors – or any other kind of crawl errors – that might be harder to diagnose with a single URL strategy. And of course, there is always the possibility that the server either sets up the serving incorrectly, or it erroneously gets flagged for cloaking by Google.
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